This was a production that should have been better. All the elements were there: a charming cast, two topical and funny plays, and a theatre company known for taking risks and creating exciting performances. Yet these elements never quite gelled, and what could have been superior was merely adequate.
The first play, Laundry and Bourbon, is set on the back porch of Elizabeth and Roy’s home. Elizabeth folds laundry and worries that her ne’er-do-well husband may have run off for good. Hattie, her best friend, ties one on while she reminisces about the good old days and tries to cheer up Elizabeth. When the uppity and self-righteous town gossip, Amy Lee, shows up with some news for poor Elizabeth, everything comes to a head which leads to a knock-down, drag out fight.
Jennifer Laine Williams played Elizabeth as a quiet and thoughtful woman. In fact, the audience likely wondered why a woman of intelligence and depth would ever stay in shabby little Maynard, married to a cheating drunk. Until, that is, she talked about Roy and how he was in the beginning. Williams exuded such devotion and almost unbearable longing that it’s clear that Elizabeth will always be there for Roy because he completes her. Ellen Dolan was wonderful as the holier-than-thou Amy Lee. As Hattie gets Amy Lee drunk, Dolan strips away her social niceties and turns into a screaming she-devil. This transformation and the catfight it spawns provided some of the funniest moments of the play. Unfortunately, Robin Suzukawa’s Hattie seemed to be out of place with these other actresses. Dolan’s Hattie was big and brassy, but she was one-dimensional.
Lone Star suffers from a similar unevenness. Set outside a bar, this one-act follows Elizabeth’s husband Roy, his brother Ray, and Amy Lee’s husband Cletis. Although as full of humor as the first play, this is ultimately a more contemplative piece that deals with Roy’s loss of purpose and self after coming home from the war. With a couple of well-timed revelations that strip away the crutches that Roy relies on, he is forced to examine who he is and where his life is going.
The most believable of the three characters in this piece is Ray, Roy’s sweet and somewhat slow younger brother. Avi Glickstein’s subtle performance created a character who could be a hero-worshipping little brother to Roy, a friend to the friendless Cletis, and yet capable of betraying both. Dustin Olson took the easy route by playing Cletis as an almost-perfect stereotype of a nerd, right down to the pocket protector. And while Cletis is indeed nerdy, it’s hard to believe that his social-climbing wife, Amy Lee, would ever let him go out in public looking like one; not when he’s on the Junior Chamber of Commerce. Finally, there was Jason Fraser’s Roy. Unfortunately, he’s the Hattie of this play; big, loud and unbelievable. That would work if the play were just Roy and Cletis, but Glickstein’s Ray was so genuine that it made the others seem like cartoons. This undercuts much of the power of the piece.
Technically the production was somewhat uneven as well. Robin Patterson’s lighting design was effective, but his set, which was designed to be taken apart and reassembled to create two different locations, was rickety and distracting. Director Janice Goldberg’s decision to use live music (songs by Wes Hightower, performed by Amos Crawley) to frame the plays and help set the mood was a delightful touch. If only the rest of the play could live up to this potential.
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Copyright 2006 Byrne Harrison